The community's reaction to Korsakovia was more mixed, with many players criticizing some of the mod's intentionally confusing level design for being frustrating rather than intimidating. The frequently brutal difficulty level also raised many eyebrows, especially given the lack of a fail state in Dear Esther. Tellingly, though, it was the mod's atmosphere that won a majority of players over. "It really seems to have scared the living Jesus out of a lot of people," says Pinchbeck, "precisely because it didn't do what it was supposed to do. It didn't make you feel powerful, and every achievement was pretty immediately undercut with a sense of failure, or had no reward other than an increase in stress. Nothing made any sense at all, and the narrative compounded this sense of total freefall I wanted the player to have."
It's a brave route to take. But then, as they've so deftly demonstrated, thechineseroom have never been averse to playing with their audience's mind. There's method in their madness, too, as Pinchbeck believes these techniques of trickery could be used to more effectively tell horror stories within the interactive media.
I ask him about his views on the current state of horror games. Over the past several years, themes that were previously constrained to a very specific genre have begun to cross-pollinate, and we're seeing an increase in the use of such ideas outside of traditional survival horror. But Pinchbeck isn't convinced it's working. "I don't think horror is taking any real direction, and that sat behind quite a few of the decisions about Korsakovia. It's been a long time since a game actually genuinely scared me, and that's a bit sad. I can't think of a game offhand where I've not wanted to turn the light off afterwards.
"Don't get me wrong, there are the occasionally really brilliant moments in games: the Poltergeists' first appearance in S.T.A.L.K.E.R., the phone ringing once in the school in the first Silent Hill. Dead Space was a great, fun game and freaky in parts, but generally speaking, we've moved right away from horror to action in pretty much all our major horror franchises, and they are poorer as a result. Resident Evil 5? Alone in the Dark? They're just lame compared to their predecessors."
Pinchbeck's noticed some parallels between the games industry and Hollywood's recent output. "What gets described as horror these days is basically just torture-porn," he muses. "I find that boring, personally." Similarly, he says, videogames are moving in what he considers an unwise direction, with the notion of true horror - conveyed through strong storytelling or by fully utilizing new, innovative ways in which the player may interact with the work - being dropped in favor of action games with a vestigial horror influence. He'd prefer to have seen Dead Space's opening lengthened, he tells me. The almost immediate introduction of an enemy meant the horror of wandering through a lonely, desolate ship was quickly lost.